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Learning difficulties: How to know if your child is improving

While the clearest improvement will take place during your child's learning at school, there are several ways that you can monitor their progress at home.

While the clearest improvement will take place during your child's learning at school, there are several ways that you can monitor their progress at home. For example, you may notice changes in their confidence or independence while doing their homework, as well as in their general attitude toward school.

What improvement looks like

An individual education plan (IEP) is a written statement that describes the adjustments, goals and strategies to meet a student's individual educational needs so they can reach their full potential. Your child's IEP and the assessments used to identify their learning difficulty should be used as the basis for determining if they are improving in their learning and other areas.

Depending on the type of learning difficulty, this will include improvement in:

  • reading, writing or mathematics
  • more specific areas of literacy or numeracy, for example, phonemic awareness or fraction sense
  • using problem-solving and other strategies independently in their learning
  • your child's belief that they can be successful at school (such as self-efficacy)
  • attitudes toward school and learning.

The areas to look at most closely will be those that have been identified as short-term or long-term goals in your child's IEP.

Signs your child is improving

Your child's teacher will help you to understand your child's starting point when it comes to the curriculum and show you how they have progressed since their IEP was developed. The curriculum should be used as the standard for demonstrating evidence of progress toward the long-term learning goals of your child's IEP.

For example, is there evidence that your child:

  • has improved on their starting knowledge, skills and use of learning strategies?
  • has achieved their short-term goals?
  • has become more independent or else is taking more responsibility for their learning?
  • feels like they have improved or that they are improving?
  • is more engaged or excited about school and learning?

When to speak to your child's school about their progress

It's important to be clear about what is most important to you when asking questions about your child's progress at school. These questions might be about their general behaviour, social-emotional wellbeing or progress with their learning. Something to consider before having this conversation is what 'improvement' means to you and what are the areas you want your child to improve in.

Some examples of questions for your child's school:

  • What signs should I be looking for at home to know my child is improving?
  • Can you help me to understand my child's assessments and test results?
  • What should I do if my child doesn't seem to be making progress?

Evidence of your child’s progress

You can ask your child’s teacher to provide you with:

  • their written feedback on tasks your child has completed, for example, assignments, essays, and tests
  • the criteria they use to assess different tasks
  • an example of student work that was completed to a high standard to help you understand the areas your child still needs to work on
  • their general impression of how your child engages in the classroom
  • information about how your child engages socially with their peers.

How to understand your child’s assessment and test results

Your child’s performance on tasks and tests can be described in many ways. It is essential to understand these terms and what they mean for how your child learns.

For example, some assessments compare your child’s ability with children of the same age or year level. Others describe knowledge and skills without referring to other students.

Norm-referenced tests

Assessments that compare your child’s abilities with other children are known as norm-referenced tests.

Each task or test has a range of average scores. This is the range for students who do not have learning difficulties for that task or test. If your child’s score is within this range their outcomes will be described as average. If it is well below this range, this may indicate a learning difficulty or disability.

Criterion-referenced tests

Some tests assess specific skills or knowledge without comparing your child to others. These are called criterion-referenced tests and tasks. They do not tell you the child’s total score. Instead, they tell you whether the child has achieved certain objectives or criteria. Examples include tests that assess how well students can apply procedures they’ve been recently taught in maths or spelling.

To help you understand your child’s test performance, ask their teacher:

  • how many correct answers are needed to show that your child has achieved the objective?
  • what year or age level does the objective match? You might want to know whether it is an expected skill for their present year level, for earlier years or later years.


The percentile rank system tells you how many children scored equal to or below your child on a task or test. For example, if your child's score is at the16th percentile this means that in a group of 100 students, 16 students had the same score or a lower score than your child on the task or test. This also means that 84 of those 100 students had a higher score.

  • A percentile rank of 50 is the average.
  • A percentile rank of between 16 and 84 reflects the average range.
  • A percentile rank of 20 could be described as low average, and a percentile rank of 80 could be described as high average.
  • Percentile ranks below 16 reflect a performance that is below the expected range for a child of that age.
  • The lower the percentile, the more difficulty is being experienced by the child.


The stanines system divides the range of possible scores on a test into 9 groups called stanines. A stanine score tells you which group your child's score is in, with the lowest score being Stanine 1 and the highest being Stanine 9.

  • Below average scores fall into Stanines 1, 2 and 3.
  • Average scores fall into Stanines 4, 5 and 6.
  • Above-average scores fall into Stanines 7, 8 and 9.

Stanines provide a helpful way of looking at data and information about scores. A score in Stanine 2, for example, is as far below the average as Stanine 8 is above the average.

Standard scores

Standard scores provide a measure of a child's performance on a test against children of the same age. They show how far above or below the average range the child's score sits.

Confidence intervals

Some assessments may use a term called confidence intervals. Whenever your child does a test, there is always a chance that the score they get doesn't match what they are capable of. This percentage is how sure we can be that the test is an accurate measure of your child's actual ability.

There are a lot of things that can affect your child's score on a test. They may not have understood the instructions for some of the tasks. They may have been nervous or tired or upset. A test that uses confidence intervals will give you an interval range between which your child's score likely lies.

For example, your child's standard score may be 108, with a 95% interval range of 96–120. This means that the tester is 95% certain that your child's true score is between 96–120, even if this is not the score they received.

What to do if you feel your child's learning is still not progressing

If you believe your child is not progressing, talk to their teacher about your concerns. They may have the same concerns or may be able to show you evidence of how your child has progressed.

You can find more information on What the school can do if your child has a learning difficulty.

Reviewed 16 March 2022

Department of Education and Training

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